Animal Instincts: Reaching Audiences in Non-Traditional Ways During COVID19 By Corinne Baud, PRSA Colorado Communications Committee member

    When Governor Polis announced the state-wide “Stay at Home Order” on March 26, Denver Zoological Foundation Communications and Public Relations Director Jake Kubie and his team jumped into action, launching new tactics to serve their audience in non-traditional ways.

    “All our traditional goals and strategies went out the door once the zoo was closed to the public,” said Kubie. “While our previous objective was ultimately getting the community to the zoo, we immediately shifted to prioritizing our digital engagement through Facebook Live, the ‘Zoo to You: Virtual Safari’ and fundraising efforts.”

    Facebook Live became one of the most important tools for Kubie and his team, utilizing it every weekday following the zoo closure. Prior to the pandemic, they utilized Facebook Live sparingly for special occasions, but it quickly became an integral tactic and measurement of success. The communications team worked together with zoo staff and keepers to create engaging content for the audience while maintaining necessary safety measures.

    “Throughout the closure, we have wanted to ensure the community that our animals are still getting the top-notch animal care they’ve always had, and that we’re closed, but still caring,” said Kubie. “We’ve focused our digital content on getting up close with animals, zookeepers and staff to drive home this message.”

    This content and more currently populates the Denver Zoo’s “Zoo to You: Virtual Safari.” A unique addition to the virtual safari has been the introduction of educational learning activities and resources created by the zoo’s communications and learning experiences departments. These digital resources became an opportunity to engage with new audiences, pushing out content for educators and parents to use with children in a non-traditional education setting. Kubie, his team and the entire zoo have taken this opportunity with stride, working towards creating a permanent virtual classroom for educators to utilize in the future.

    Another unique chance for audience engagement presented itself with a fundraising opportunity to name the zoo’s new rhino calf. The zoo has conducted similar naming contests in the past, typically raising $8,000 to $10,000. This time, however, was much different.

    “We were able to raise $40,000 just from the rhino naming contest alone which was amazing,” said Kubie. “We are in a unique position as a non-profit because even during the shutdown we still have 3,000 mouths and beaks to feed and care for. The community support through donations by way of the naming contest and general support has been unparalleled, as well as their digital sentiments about the zoo.”

    Throughout the closure, the communications team and the zoo found a silver lining of adapting to an online space of non-traditional PR and communications tactics and aims to incorporate this into future strategy. With plans to reopen the zoo soon, Kubie is gearing up for what he says will be a whole new set of challenges to navigate. Nevertheless, Kubie and his team will continue to think and act nimbly, pulling from the lessons learned during this unprecedented time to stay flexible, try new tactics and remain authentic throughout. 

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